mortally felled father and observed his mother holding his head in her lap
weeping bitterly. Eyeing the assassins, the boy with burning revenge within his heart and soul lugged a shotgun from the closet, but before he could discharge it at the men, the victim’s wife arrested it from her son. For a six-year-old, he had faced many obstacles. These included the uncertainty and ambiguity of the name and identity of he and his parents, the constant relocation of his family from state to state, city to city and house to house, and now have witnessed first hand the murder of his pa. Within two days of the shooting, Little Tim would discover the stark truth about his life: he was the son of the famous bandit, Jesse James, and his own name was not Tim, but Jesse James Jr.
Would the “sins of the father be laid upon” the child?
The death of Jesse James left his widow, Zee James, and their two fatherless children, Jesse Jr. and tender-aged Mary Susan, penniless and destitute. There was no buried treasure; there was no“trust” fund; they had no secret bank box; they did not have any money at all; they were broke. Their financial plight compelled Zee to seek refuge and support from her family in Kansas City, which would soon become their adopted hometown. Their impoverished prematurely forced Jesse Jr. into the role as “man” of the family. This destitution significantly compromised his education, as his schooling was simply subordinate to the needs of his mother and younger sister. He had to earn wages to support the family, and by the age of eleven, Jesse Jr. had taken his first official employment position. It would prove not to be his last
The young boy’s hard work ethics soon attracted the attention of civic leaders and businessmen in Kansas City. Among those taking an interest in Jesse Jr. was Thomas T. Crittenden, Jr. It had been his father, Thomas T. Crittenden, Sr., who had been Governor of Missouri at the time Jesse James had been killed. Many considered Governor Crittenden as culpable as the Ford Brothers in murdering Jesse James. It may never be known whether it was
out of respect for the young man’s labors or the guilt for what his own father
had done to the senior James. It is unquestioned that Crittenden, Jr. took Jesse
Jr. under his wings. He gave Jesse Jr. a job with his real estate company; he
financed both the purchase of property and a construction loan for the boy and his family; he even ensured that when Jesse Jr. went into business on his own in 1898 it would be a successful one. On January 15, 1898, Jesse Jr. opened a sundry shop that principally sold cigars and tobacco products inside the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City. Once again Crittenden, Jr., had arranged the business location and financing.
While his new entrepreneurial business in the courthouse allowed Jesse Jr. to mingle with the elite, it also brought him into contact with those of questionable or even criminal reputations. Among these disputed figures were John F. Kennedy, William W. Lowe and Andy Ryan, the younger brother of Bill Ryan, a former member of the James gang. These associations were tarnishing Jesse’s otherwise good reputation. When the Missouri Pacific Railroad was robbed on the evening of September 23, 1898 in the coal-mining district known as Leeds, Kansas City Police Chief John Hayes requisitioned the list of the usual suspects. Puzzling, a new name appeared, and Jesse Jr. became the focus of police, investigators and railroad detectives as the leader of the Leeds gang. Awards totaling $800 were posted for the arrest and conviction of the crooks.
Had the son of the bandit become a “chip off the ole’ block?” Pinkerton Agents and other investigators were convinced of this fact. Soon the young man was accused, charged and indicted for the Leeds train robbery. News stories across the United States buzzed with the details of the crime and the “resurrection”of the new James Gang. Jesse Jr. would have to stand trial for the
The most learned defense team was assembled to defend the cigar salesman, and the Jackson County Prosecutor James A. Reed, a future United States Senator and Presidential Candidate, was convinced of his guilt. As the criminal case weaved its way through the courthouse, crowds over filled the building and courtroom. Those unfortunate not to have a seat at center stage turned every page of the newsprint, nationally and locally, like reading a novel. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse or hear of the exploits of Jesse James, Jr., and the entire James family. They were not to be denied as the boy’s famous or infamous Uncle Frank James and the mother of his assassinated father attended the media crazed trial.
The son of the bandit had taken center stage for an encore presentation of the new James gang, Jesse James & The Leeds Gang. As the reader turns each page of the book, it will be like returning to Americana at the turn of the 20th Century.